The Truth About Stretch Marks (During Pregnancy and Beyond)

Photo: Stocksy/Julien L. Balmer

In case you haven't noticed, there's a definite stretch-mark pride movement happening. Celebrity moms like Kelly Rowland and Amber Rose are displaying theirs on Instagram; Orange is the New Black actress Danielle Brooks just told People that she considers hers “a road map of my strength”; and model Carter Kim’s got a buzzed-about, celebratory close-up in rapper Kendrick Lamar’s "Humble" music video.

But all this good publicity brings up a lot of questions about these heretofore hidden marks. Like, where do they come from? Why do some women get them during pregnancy while others don't? And if you're less-than-jazzed about your own, is there really anything that can be done about them, other than shelling out big bucks for laser treatments and less-than-effective scar creams?

To clear up some of the confusion, I asked a pair of super-smart wellness pros to share the science behind stretch marks—and how to flip the script if you find yourself fixated on your own lovely lines. Because in an era of body positivity and no-makeup realness, don't you think it's time these epidermal badges of honor finally got the good vibes they deserve?

Here's their best advice on how to handle stretch marks holistically.

Photo: Stocksy/Lumina
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

Are stretch marks preventable?

Hate to break it to you, type-A gals, but most factors that contribute to this type of scarring are totally out of your control.

“Stretch marks are areas of the skin that have been damaged by the pressure of rapid growth,” says Nancy Samolitis, MD, of Los Angeles’ Facile Dermatology + Boutique. (That’s why, during pregnancy, the boobs, belly, and hips are most often affected.) “Small tears occur in the collagen layer of the skin and heal with scar tissue. The tears initially appear red, and then eventually turn white.”

"If your skin is genetically prone to stretch marks, you may not be able to completely prevent them."

Not every woman will get them, but those who do tend to inherit the tendency from their mothers and grandmothers. “Skin that is genetically stronger or thicker is more likely to tear easily,” says Dr. Samolitis. “Other conditions, such as rapidly changing hormone levels, can also cause the skin to be more prone to thinning and stretching. Unfortunately, if your skin is genetically prone to stretch marks and is more fragile, you may not be able to completely prevent them.”

Obviously, the usual good-skin rules apply during pregnancy, like moisturizing on the reg and wearing sunscreen—which may minimize the appearance of scars, according to the doctor. She's seen microneedling and laser treatments do the same if administered right after giving birth.

But ultimately, says Dr. Samolitis, there’s nothing you can do to totally prevent stretch marks from happening in the first place. “I think we have to accept that our skin will change with age, pregnancy, and under many other natural conditions,” she explains.

Photo: Stocksy/Kate Daigneault
Photo: Stocksy/Kate Daigneault

How to love your stretch marks

Of course, that acceptance can be a little hard to arrive at (even in this era of stretch-mark positivity), especially when coming to terms with the near-daily changes that happen to a pregnant body. But according to Lori Bregman— doula and wellness coach whose clients include Molly Sims and Kristen Bell—shifting your mindset around the condition is hugely liberating.

“In Japan they have a saying called wabi sabi, which is about embracing and finding the beauty in imperfections,” says Bregman. One of her favorite ways to do this is through a gratitude practice. “Think about the fact that you were able to make this baby, carry this baby, birth this baby, and feed this baby,” she says. “Your stretch marks are a reminder of what you’ve accomplished.”

"Your stretch marks are a reminder of what you’ve accomplished."

It also helps to keep a healthy sense of perspective when you’re consuming any type of media—especially ones that involve filters and airbrushing. “Never compare yourself to celebrities after they’ve had babies,” she stresses. “Those are unrealistic expectations. Chances are, they have trainers and treatments that the average person doesn’t have access to.”

And, if all else fails, consider the fact that negative self-talk is largely hereditary. “By the age of 10, 80 percent of American girls say they’ve been on a diet,” says Bregman. “If you’re not embracing who you are, you’re passing that down to your children. Instead, say, ‘I’m proud of these, because they remind me of you.’” Think of them as your tiger stripes, earned during a time when you were busy bringing actual life into the world. And really, how darn beautiful is that?!

Welcome to the Well+Good Healthy Pregnancy Guide, a week-long series on how SoulCycle-loving, leggings-wearing, kale salad-obsessed women can bring wellness into the next nine months (and beyond).

Diet's another big part of keeping your skin healthy while knocked up. Check out the nutrient-packed smoothie that pregnant celebs love, and the things everyone should be eating for a healthier complexion.

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